Virgil Abloh shocked the world of fashion Sunday when news of his passing broke online. The 41 year old artistic director of menswear for luxury brand Louis Vuitton and founder of high end street wear brand Off White is considered one of the most influential designers of the last decade and of the moment, having established street wear as primary driving aesthetic for luxury fashion, making it a truly significant look across all classes, ages and pursuits.
Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH, said of the Vuitton artistic director in a statement: “Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”
The civil engineering graduate from Chicago, with a master’s degree in architecture, shot to fame when he began collaborating with Kanye West, consequently joining the rap superstar in his internship at Fendi in Rome. In 2013, he founded Off White, a brand that combines his varied passions: art, streetwear, music, travel and fashion. In 2018, he assumed the art directorship for menswear at Louis Vuitton, following the exit of Kim Jones.
“Virgil Abloh changed the fashion industry,” wrote British Vogue editor Edward Enninful in a tribute on social media. “Famously prolific, he always worked for a greater cause than his own illustrious career: to open the door to art and fashion for future generations so that they—unlike himself—would grow up in a creative world with people to mirror themselves in.”
Thomas Bettridge, editor of High Snobiety wrote, “Of the myriad of talent Virgil had, the most important was his ability to connect the dots, crisscrossing ideas through the ether of our universe on WhatsApp groups, airplanes and a ceaseless procession of project after project with collaborator after collaborator. He was the human incarnation of WiFi: less a singular artist and more a frequency that an entire wave of people and ideas operated on.”
“The more I look for the right words to express my feelings in this moment, the more I have this memory of him, an amazingly talented young man, designer, father, artist, full of life and creativity,” said Valentino designer Pierpaolo Piccioli. “He changed the game of fashion with his disruptive humanity and curiosity, and I am sure all of that will stay here with us.”
The young actor Timothee Chalamet, meanwhile, posted what looked like an exchange of messages between him and Abloh on Instagram, as well as the Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Chalamet has been sporting Abloh’s creations on the red carpet, often causing a stir with every fashion statement including the beaded “harness” look at the 2019 Golden Globes.
The model Bella Hadid was left at a loss by the news of Abloh’s death. In an Instagram message, she described him as an ethereal light. “He made every person he came across feel special in whatever way he possibly could. Even when the world felt sad, he brought laughter and color and beauty. The way he made a positive impact on anything he touched, and always pushed for his culture/the world is the reason why he was an angel on earth and one to so many. The most beautiful warrior soul.”
Abloh was privately battling “a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” according to the Off White website, after his diagnosis in 2019. “Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations.”